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Three books

I returned A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to the library today, unread. In its way, this is a real recommendation for the book. I returned it because all the system's copies were checked out and mine was recalled for someone else who wanted to read it. I'll try again when I no longer have quite so many other books competing for my immediate attention.

One of those other books was one of my recently gift-given cookbooks, Mangoes and Curry Leaves, from which I have learned that Nepal is the size of Iowa, and that Sri Lanka rises to 7000 feet. I really like Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid's cookbooks. They have given us so many of our staple dishes over the years. From the newest, I cooked dal tonight for the first time, a Bangladeshi recipe. It used red dal, tamarind, onions, and turmeric, among its other ingredients. The results were vivid and alluring, an addictive but not overwhelming intensity to it. The Toronto-based authors say it's one of their staple dishes; on first taste, it's likely to become one of mine too.

All of you who recommended Feed: you're right. It really is good. The pacing started out unevenly, but it gained momentum, although it still occasionally stumbled over sudden longer periods of time. Even the things about it which annoyed me slightly - the constant excessive detail of world-building - turned out to be in there for a good reason. I've been somewhat wondering if it annoyed me quite as it did because it's a little too close to the way I track the items in my world. I wonder: in how many books can one trace the story of a single bottle or can of drink over many mentions? There must be a fair many out there.

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( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
rymenhild
Jan. 10th, 2011 11:13 pm (UTC)
Vaguely tangential to this post, I was recently considering the question, "Why do people in fantasy analogues to medieval Europe always drink tea, and never coffee?" Coffee and tea are equally imports from far parts of the world, and neither beverage could be found in medieval Europe.

Anyway, I didn't come up with a satisfactory answer, but I did think, "That's a question for owlfish."
owlfish
Jan. 10th, 2011 11:44 pm (UTC)
Interesting question!

Coffee is endemic in science fiction novels, tea less so, in my casual observation. Other people have tackled the topic of coffee-a-likes in passing, but it warrants further study - possibly by me!

My initial hypothesis is that, in our developed western world experience, we have a lot of gadgets for coffee: electric grinders, cafetières, espresso machines. Households with no coffee-gadgets will often buy instant coffee instead - a modern processed food whose constituents are opaque to the user. Tea, in contrast, is, to most end-users, leaves in boiling water. Even habitual users of electric kettles are usually aware they can boil water pretty easily with fire and a pot if they absolutely had to. Those coffee gadgets aren't usually seen to be *used* in SF - but that association probably informs the default environments authors construct in their heads around types of fantastical literature. (Even when they aren't actually necessary to the preparation of coffee - but I don't know I even know anyone who uses a mechanical grinder, say, to prepare their coffee. if I do, I don't know many of them, I'm sure.)
non_trivial
Jan. 11th, 2011 02:08 pm (UTC)
You know at least one... (I don't drink enough coffee to stop ground going stale, so I buy beans and grind as needed.)
owlfish
Jan. 11th, 2011 03:21 pm (UTC)
C.'s father was also given a mechanical grinder for Christmas. How is it compared to an electrical grinder? (Or did you never have a variant of those?)
non_trivial
Jan. 11th, 2011 03:29 pm (UTC)
I use a cheap electric blade grinder, which works well enough for my purposes, although it does produce grounds of varying sizes.

I gather that mechanical grinders are almost all of the burr type, which are preferred by afficionadoes as they give a more even grind and don't over-heat the grounds due to friction. My mum has had the same mechanical grinder for about 20 years, and it's still going strong - it might be a bit of a pain if you were running a coffee shop, but it only takes a minute or two to grind enough beans for a couple of cups.
owlfish
Jan. 11th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
You're right of course: what I meant was non-electrical mechanical grinders.
tisiphone
Jan. 11th, 2011 12:21 am (UTC)
I love, love, love Mangoes and Curries Leaves (though it's too big to actually cook with in my kitchen, so if I want to use a recipe I have to either copy it out or run back and forth).
owlfish
Jan. 11th, 2011 12:40 pm (UTC)
Yes, it really is a large book! The other cookbooks of theirs I have - Seductions of Rice; Flatbreads and Flavors - are much more compact paperbacks. I was thinking I might scan & print this recipe and put it in the kitchen binder for convenience.
tammabanana
Jan. 11th, 2011 01:06 am (UTC)
Yay, I'm glad you liked Feed! The one thing I found annoying about it was the behavior of the only visible female presidential candidate, but then I remembered Sarah Palin and got depressed instead of annoyed.
owlfish
Jan. 11th, 2011 12:41 pm (UTC)
Yes, that had its moments of irritatingness too. It helped, really, that we never met the female politician, though. It'll be interesting to see what kinds of politicians the sequel has.
lil_shepherd
Jan. 11th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
I must admit that I returned A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to the same library (and probably the same copy) only half read, then skimmed to the end in the hope that it got better. It didn't. My main problem with it was that I wasn't convinced by any of the characters, or that the society worked, nor was it written in the sort of style that grabs me. I got bored.

I know that this is not the mainstream view but, on the other hand, I know I am not alone.
owlfish
Jan. 11th, 2011 12:41 pm (UTC)
I (obviously) don't yet know what I will think of it, but will report back when I do.
autopope
Jan. 11th, 2011 01:06 pm (UTC)
I just finished it 48 hours ago; am partway into the second book in the (groan) trilogy.

Structurally it's very deft, very accomplished: by first novel standards, it's a jaw-dropper. But I got an uneasy feeling that the backdrop behind the principal actors is paper-thin; non-trivial stuff Just Happens without any fuss because it needs to, and bothering to make it plausible would distract from the thrust of the central narrative (which is a dissection of a couple of dysfunctional abusive families that mirror each other's flaws, using the alienated protagonist in search of someone to blame -- who has been recalled to fill a role in a rite of succession -- as a cursor).

There are similar flaws in the setting of "The Broken Kingdoms" that I shall not trouble you with. Suffice to say, the story is to some extent undermined by the world-building (which, while not dire, is certainly not up to the high standard of the rest of the book).

Edited at 2011-01-11 01:06 pm (UTC)
ajodasso
Jan. 11th, 2011 09:51 am (UTC)
Would you mind passing along the Bangladeshi recipe? James is very good with curries, and it sounds like something we could do with what we have on hand (minus the tamarind; we'd have to pick that up). I love red lentils.
owlfish
Jan. 11th, 2011 12:42 pm (UTC)
Certainly! It was a very straightforward recipe; even easier since we had tamarind paste in the house so could skip the part where the tamarind pulp needed soaking.
(Anonymous)
Jan. 11th, 2011 06:37 pm (UTC)
re:
why not...
genibane
Jan. 11th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
I just finished a novel, "A Journel of a Hundred Steps," a story about a Muslim Indian man born in Mumbai, traveling with his family from India to London, then eventually settling in a small town in France, and his culinary journey to becoming a top chef in Paris. Reading this book made me crave both Indian and French cuisine so bad. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it!
pennski
Jan. 13th, 2011 10:11 pm (UTC)
We are reading in sync! Well almost...I'm still on "Feed" (and thoroughly enjoying it) and highly recommend "A Hundred Thousand Kingdoms" (which I finished over Christmas).
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )